This was a half day of touring. We start walking in the Shichahai neighborhood, northern part of the Grand Canal, dating back to the Jin Dynasty. Today shops, restaurants, and boat tours are part of the area’s activities. We turn into one of the old hutong neighbors. Many of these districts have been removed- literally bulldozed – but a few still exist for the tourists. They are very old with modern amenities such as electricity and water added sometimes in a very sketchy manner. There is some obvious economic movement in the neighborhoods as the properties have become quite expensive. The alternative is the owner who sells rooms from within his property, thereby creating a rat’s nest of wiring and egress. We must watch our step as rickshaws parade non-stop now through these small alleyways competing with cars, people, bikes, et.
Not all of the hutong buildings remain residential. The Nanluoguixing area maintains the face and scale of the hutong street but has turned a long street of houses into shops and businesses. Along the way, we observe fast food walk-ins beside clothing stores, trinket shops, etc.
We move on to the nearby Drum and Bell Towers. The Drum Tower overlooks the Bell and was constructed in 1420. Both were once used to mark the time of day with ringing and drumming every 2 hours.
Following the towers, we move toward the 2008 Olympics site. The National Olympic Stadium with its iconic architecture was designed by Ai Weiwei, and seats 91,000 people, It is referred to as the “Bird’s Nest” since its outer bands of structural steel resemble the woven sticks of a nest. Viewing the other building to be reused in the upcoming Winter Olympics is the National Aquatics Center or “Water Cube”.
We return to the hotel for lunch and the afternoon in the Summer Palace. The Aman has a secret gate that allows us to pass through directly into the grounds. This is particularly valuable since the crowds including countless tour groups were everywhere. We spend time walking around Kunming lake since the masses of people in the buildings and around the northern gate make it impossible to observe anything.
The Summer Palace’s patron was Empress Cixi, since she had it rebuilt twice: 1860 and 1902 (Boxer Rebellion). It is over 290 hectares, built originally in 1750, and used as a cooling destination from the inner city with its parklike environment abutting the lake. While it was made a public park int 1924, it is now on the World Heritage list by the United Nations.